Jill Sanford | 02.09.2018

There’s a fine line that all outdoor adventurers must tread: How do we see, experience, and travel to the scenic landscapes that inspire us in a way that minimizes our impact on the natural world?

To back up, every time we use fossil fuels to travel (or do anything), we release carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change and increasing the likelihood and severity of natural disasters like floods and forest fires, all of which obviously impact the scenic places where we play.

Acknowledging that we are complicit in making the world a warmer place and that climate change detrimentally impacts where we recreate and a myriad other climate-related problems is the first step. We can chip away at our individual carbon footprints, however, and at least do what we can as individuals to reduce our impact on the environment.

Here are ten steps to remember the next time you travel and adventure to reduce your carbon footprint.  

1. Know your impact

Next time you plan a trip, be it to your local trail system or across the country, do a quick Google search to learn exactly how much of a carbon footprint your travel entails. For example, according to one of the many carbon footprint calculators out there, Calculator.CarbonFootprint.com, an individual on a round-trip flight from Reno to Denver is responsible for releasing .19 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Once you calculate your footprint, consider ways in which you can start whittling away at that number. It’s important to acknowledge exactly what your contribution to climate change is in order to actually change your habits. Taking responsibility is an important first step, but no one is perfect, and there are plenty of things that you can do to minimize your impact.

2. Reuse, Reuse, Reuse

From towels to coffee cups to water bottles… this one is a no-brainer in 2018. Outdoor people are already used to making ends meet with what we can carry on our backs. Translate the one towel, one shirt, reusable water bottle ethos that you use in the backcountry into your daily life. Minimize what you need and avoid single-use plastic, period.

3. Buy gear that does good…and don’t buy something unless you really need it.

The energy that goes into manufacturing things is astounding. Consider buying from companies that are transparent about their supply chain. When possible, buy used gear. Patagonia’s Worn Wear program, for example, offers many like-new garments that cost less. This is a win-win solution because they also cost a lot less in carbon emissions to resell than it does to create brand new products.

With our obsession with the newest and greatest gear, it’s easy for outdoor people to end up with a closet or garage full of things we don’t use. When making a purchase, ask yourself if you really, truly need something, or if you just want it. If you must buy it, then unload whatever you are replacing by donating or selling it or, even better, gifting it to someone else who enjoys the outdoors to inspire them to get out there.

4. Driving versus flying

Carpool when you can. Airplanes are huge carbon emitters, and by sharing a ride on the ground you can drastically minimize your impact. Consider taking the bus or train, too. Public transportation is hard to come by in a lot of rural areas where people like to recreate outdoors, so if you frequent a specific area, speak up and make your voice heard. Talk to local government officials and look into what these communities are doing to be more walkable and public-transportation friendly.

5. Use your feet whenever possible

Human powered adventure is key--and outdoor enthusiasts know this better than anyone. Ride your bike or walk as much as possible, and you might even discover the adventure is twice as exciting if you get creative on your way to the trailhead.

6. Book trips through environmentally-minded organizations

Organizations like the Sierra Club or Nature Conservancy, and even REI, make an effort to offer more sustainable trips where professionals purposefully plan your itinerary to have as small of an impact as possible. Some of these organizations even offer service trips, which allow you to give back and become a steward of the place you are visiting.

7. Research the region’s specific recycling opportunities

You might mean well when you throw any plastic you’d recycle at home in the blue bin, but different regions have different recycling programs, so you might be doing more harm than good. A quick Google search will usually tell you what you can and can’t recycle in your destination. Be a good visitor and do your research beforehand.

8. Eat locally and consume more veggies than meat

Food consumption is responsible for a huge amount of carbon emission, but being mindful of what you fuel your adventures with can make a huge difference. Grab some trail mix rather than beef jerky for your next trail snack. Better yet, stop by a local farmer’s market and pick up some veggies, fruits, and other local snacks to munch on while out on the trail or traveling to your next adventure.

9. Put your money where your mouth is and purchase Carbon Offsets/Carbon Credits

Once you contribute carbon into the atmosphere, you can’t take it back. You can, however, contribute financially to projects that will reduce carbon emissions in other ways. Depending on where and how you purchase carbon credits, your money can go toward investing in renewable energy solutions or planting more trees to act as carbon sinks (because they absorb carbon from the atmosphere). Many people are starting to calculate the number of miles they fly or drive each year and purchase a correlating amount of carbon credits to offset the damage they have done.

10. Make your voice heard

While individual choices can go a long way in combating climate change, make your voice heard on a policy level. Let your local elected representatives know if you are concerned with how carbon emissions impact local economies and pristine environments that you care about. Donate to nonprofits that are actively working to mitigate and one day reverse climate change, as well.


Thanks for the helpful article, especially the tips on minimizing one's impact en-route to the main event. It's sometimes easy to forget about the emissions created in reaching a destination, but getting there more slowly can be a part of the adventure!
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